See Chuck Close Up Close

Bill T. Jones (2008), black-and-white Polaroid diptych mounted on aluminum. (Chuck Close)

Photography has always at the heart of Chuck Close’s artwork, the painter famously recreating portraits on a massive scale. It was often portrayed as an arduous, painstaking process, with Close filling in little dots and triangles long after everybody else had gone home.

As a straight-up photographer, Close is less well-known. But the camera has always been there, we were merely blinded by those 10-foot-tall faces. Chuck Close Photographs is, according to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, “the first comprehensive survey” of Close’s work. Read more »

OPINION: The Ben Franklin Bridge Climbers and the Pursuit of “Art”

Two young men dressed all in black climbed to the top of the Ben Franklin Bridge last week, and the people down below wanted to know what was going on. Were they jumpers, terrorists, or black-masked Antifa members up to no good? Or were they just nincompoop graffiti artists on an adolescent tagging expedition? (The news media, for a hot five minutes, assumed the pair was following in the footsteps of Cornbread, the city’s most notorious tagger).

When it was discovered that these climbing man-boys were in fact photographers (America’s most popular hobby, by the way), every photographer in the city no doubt remembered a time when they had crossed a line or two in the name of photography. Read more »

Philly Prof’s New Book Treats Wildwood Motels Like the Works of Art They Are

The Blue Marlin Motel in Wildwood Crest -- blue beach chairs and blue walls

The Blue Marlin Motel, at Toledo and Atlantic avenues in Wildwood Crest | Photo courtesy of Mark Havens

It all started with the Garden State Parkway.

The roadway’s construction — complemented by the postwar boom period — led to the birth of the Wildwoods. The several cities that make up the five-mile island had been around since the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it wasn’t until carloads of middle-class Philadelphians trekked down the shore that the Wildwoods became the place we think of today.

And the simple L- or U-shaped motels built around that time are more than just places to sleep. “For a clientele whose out-of-reach dream vacation was Polynesia, the Caribbean or even the exotic Far East, Wildwood willingly stood in as a surrogate,” architecture critic Joseph Giovannini writes. “Blue-collar workers from as close as Philadelphia or as far away as Montreal could still enjoy a week of vacation on the sand in an environment that evoked distant lands.”

Giovannini writes that in an introdutory essay in a new book by Philadelphia University industrial design professor Mark Havens. His Out of Season: The Vanishing Architecture of the Wildwoods chronicles 10 years of Havens’ fine art photography of the famous Wildwood motel. While much Wildwood architecture hagiography focuses on kitsch, Havens’ book goes a bit deeper: The beauty of the chair placement at the Blue Marlin Motel, the wonderful doors at the Ocean Sands Motel, the hilarity of the neon sign and pirate combo at the Jolly Roger.

“These motels were very simple, built mostly from cinder block, stucco, iron railings and a few coats of paint,” New School professor Jamer Hunt writes in the book’s other essay. “Few mistook them for anything more than what they were—economical. But through the inventive and highly formalist use of decorative elements, owners, contractors, and architects were able to elevate these buildings beyond the utilitarian. They created a genuine, expressive middle-class vacation aesthetic that transcends the more saccharine pleasures of the big-budget signs and exotic names.”

I talked with Havens about his book. This conversation has been lightly edited for style and length. Read more »

The 13 Most Stylish Philly Instagram Accounts You Need to Follow Immediately

feature photo 2

Images via 1, 2, 3.

Instagram isn’t just a social media platform; it’s a way of life. Millions of people post millions of photos on the ’Gram everyday, in the hopes of sharing a unique perspective on ordinary life and maybe scoring an exclusive waist-trainer/detox tea advertising contract. Even in Philadelphia, the app has evolved from anthologies of “squad pics” to thoroughly curated feeds that consistently serve major style inspiration. Meet the 13 Philly Instagram accounts we’re currently obsessing over. Read more »

SEPTA: Don’t Take Selfies on Train Tracks

By Jim Pickerell, 1936-, Photographer (NARA record: 4588217) - U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain,

SEPTA tracks in Philadelphia’s Northwest suburbs. | Jim Pickerell, (NARA record: 4588217)U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.

Chances are you’ve seen more than one photo of a young couple strolling aimlessly along a set of old-wooden train tracks. The images are iconic, they’re romanic — and they’re risky. While train track pictures are a photographer’s dream because of the elegant converging lines and scenic backdrop, they’re also a train engineer’s worst nightmare.

As the weather warms up, and the trees begin to bloom, SEPTA is attempting to discourage spring photographers looking to hold such photo shoots from heading to the tracks.  Read more »

Philly Block Project Wants to Show a Truer Portrait of Kensington

Hakan Ibisi carries a photograph of his grandfather in his wallet. Ibisi was photographed for the Philly Block Project, a collaboration between the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center and Hank Willis Thomas. Photo by Wyatt Gallery/Hank Willis Thomas Studio. 

Hakan Ibisi carries a photograph of his grandfather in his wallet. Ibisi was photographed for the Philly Block Project, a collaboration between the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center and Hank Willis Thomas. Photo by Wyatt Gallery/Hank Willis Thomas Studio.

A smile creeps onto Fada Ahmad‘s face as she passes around a photo of the newest member of the family, her 1-year-old granddaughter. In the picture the young girl clutches onto her grandfather and a wide smile covers her face.

“She loves him more than anyone,” says Ahmad, laughing softly, as she talks about how the girl’s grandfather spoils her with gifts and candy. This is only one of the cherished photographs Ahmad has to share. Ahmad is the self-proclaimed photographer of her family. She has two suitcases full of photos at home. Today, she’s brought several snapshots and a cellphone packed with pictures.

“You are the keeper of your family archive,” remarks Lori Waselchuk, the coordinator of the Philly Block Project.

Ahmad’s archive is joining with another archive — actually quite a few other archives. Ahmad is at the Al Aqsa Islamic Society for a photo scanning event. Her photos along with the photos of many Kensington residents are being collected by the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center for something called the Philly Block Project. The aim of the project is to create a “visual narrative” of South Kensington that will be comprised of photos submitted by Kensington residents, in addition to photos of present day Kensington which will be taken by photographer Hank Willis Thomas and several other collaborating artists. Read more »

High Art: Q&A with Rooftopping Photographer Christopher Olstein

Rooftopping photographer Christopher Olstein (right) enjoys the view.

Rooftopping photographer Christopher Olstein (right) enjoys the view.

Most of us spend our days looking up at the skyline of Philadelphia, but what if we could get on top of some of the city’s most iconic buildings and structures and have a look around? That is the goal of the “rooftopper,” a type of urban explorer that has been in the news recently thanks to nauseating feats like this one atop the world’s second tallest building and also some attempts that, tragically, didn’t turn out quite as well. We caught up with Philadelphia rooftopper Christopher Olstein, who publishes the photographs from his elevated missions on Instagram. (A gallery of his photos appears after the interview.)

What possessed you to start rooftopping?

Instagram, actually. I was seeing a lot of people doing it in Manhattan, which is such a dense, tall city with so many different places to go and capture different views. And so I thought it would be interesting to see what kinds of views I get in a city like Philadelphia. Read more »

Adam Wallacavage Exhibiting Photographs For the First Time in Over a Decade

Ship on rock

We all know Adam Wallacavage‘s octopus chandeliers, the whimsical light fixtures that decorate ceilings from here to São Paulo and beyond. It’s been a long time, though, since the local photographer and sculpture artist exhibited photographs. Like over-a-decade long. That’ll change soon, when Fishtown contemporary art space LMNL Gallery opens his new exhibit of photographs called “Shipwrecks of Unicorn Beach.”

Read more »

Here Are the Three Winning Shots From Philly Photo Day

On October 9th, Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC) hosted their annual Greater Philly Photo Day. The initiative asks anyone to snap a picture on that day and submit it in the attempt to capture what it looked like to be in Philly during that 24-hour period. A rep from PPAC tells me they got 1,500 photos, and they’ve selected three standouts that will be blown up and posted on SEPTA platforms around the city. Here are those winning shots, by photographers Alex Djordjevic, Paul Drzal, and Steven Huang:

The nice thing about Philly Photo Day, however, is that everyone who submits is a winner. You may not have your photo immortalized on SEPTA platforms, but every image will be featured in an exhibition of entries at the PPAC Main Gallery at 1400 North American Street. That kicks off on November 12th with a special reception at 6 pm. For more, check out PPAC’s website here. Or look out for one of the billboards on the SEPTA platforms. Here’s an example of what they’ll look like with text and images and such:

greater philly photo day

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Tomorrow is Greater Philly Photo Day

Get your camera ready, Philadelphia. Tomorrow is Philadelphia Photo Arts Center (PPAC)’s Greater Philly Photo Day, an initiative to capture what 24 hours living in Philadelphia looks like in photo form (and a way to have one of your pics included in a real-life exhibition—no matter what your skill level).

Taking part is easy-breezy. Just snap a photo between midnight and 11:59 pm on Friday, October 9th, and upload it to PPAC’s website. The only rules are that you have to capture the photo on October 9, 2015, and you have to have taken it within one of the 11 counties making up the Greater Philadelphia Region. You have until October 14th to upload it onto PPAC’s site here.

Read more »

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